Tinder's social media staff had a spectacular meltdown on Twitter on August 11, attacking Vanity Fair reporter Nancy Jo Sales for a not-great piece on the dating app for painting users in a bad light. The full tweetstorm is hard to summarize, but its apex was probably the preposterous claim that North Koreans are on Tinder:
Talk to our many users in China and North Korea who find a way to meet people on Tinder even though Facebook is banned.— Tinder (@Tinder) August 11, 2015
At this point, it's fair to wonder — what in the world is Tinder, and why should I care about their Twitter behavior? So here's a brief guide to the app, its history, and its immature (and sometimes worse than immature) management.
1) What is Tinder?
Tinder is an app for iOS (iPhone, iPod Touches, iPads, etc.) and Android devices meant to make it easy to meet new people. The app is designed to emulate how meeting people in real life works, cofounder Sean Rad told Fast Company's Mark Wilson, by making user profiles more image-focused than text-focused and placing people's faces front and center. "What we do on Tinder is no different than what we already do," Rad said. "You see somebody. You start with their face. If you find a connection, you continue to understand, 'what are our common interests, our social groups?'"
While often referred to as a "hookup app," Tinder's developers deny that's its intended purpose, saying that their own research indicates that only six percent of users see it as such. Indeed, a 2013 survey by marketing firm SessionM found that less than 20 percent of Tinder users state that they use the app primarily because they're "looking for a quick hookup," an answer beaten by "I'm just curious," "it's entertaining," and "looking for a relationship" (of course, the app has grown and changed a lot since 2013).
Users build profiles by importing photos and interests from their Facebook accounts, and tell the app the genders, age range, and geographic radius they want to get matches from, and then the app starts producing matches fitting the search criteria. Matches with whom you share Facebook friends or interests show up earlier.
At any given moment, the main page of Tinder will show a potential match, whose images, interests, mutual friends, and description one can browse. Each match appears looking initially like the picture below on the left, from which one can pull up profile details, which display like the screen on the right:
Users have two options when presented with a potential match: swipe right on the phone/tablet's touch screen (or, alternately, press the button with a heart on it) to signal interest in meeting the match; or swipe left (or press the button with a red X on it) if not interested. If both users swipe right / click the heart, then Tinder opens up a chat thread for the two of them.
2) How many people use Tinder?
The company told the Los Angeles Times' Paresh Dave in November that it had 30 million users; the number has likely grown significantly since then.
In January, TechCrunch's Jordan Crook reported that Tinder makes 21 million matches and processes 1.5 billion swipes every day. As of January 11, it had made 5 billion matches. For context, the company hit the 1 billion matches mark in March 2014, 500 million matches in December 2013, and 1 million in January 2013. In a little over two years, the match total has grown 5,000-fold.
Tinder is not just a US phenomenon; according to parent company IAC, about two thirds of Tinder users are overseas. As of January 2014 (an eternity ago in Tinder-time), about 1.2 million people in the Netherlands alone were using the app — 7 percent of the whole Dutch population.
3) What kinds of people use Tinder?
52 percent of Tinder users are between 18 and 24, and 33 percent are between 25 and 34. Tinder cofounder Justin Mateen has said that in the early days of the app, over 90 percent of users were between 18 and 24, so it's been getting older over time. That 18-24 figure includes many college students, and a number of observers have argued that Tinder is noticeably changing the dynamics of college dating at a number of campuses.
There does appear to be a major gender imbalance among people using location-based dating apps, however. A report from the market research firm GlobalWebIndex found that 62 percent of users of apps like Tinder are male.
4) What are problems that people have had with Tinder?
Probably the funniest problem Tinder's run into is that it's become so popular with celebrities that they've had to implement verification for notable users, so that, say, Lindsay Lohan (a confirmed Tinder user) doesn't have to convince matches that she is, in fact, Lindsay Lohan.
As with most social networking sites of any scale, Tinder has been embraced by marketers, perhaps most prevalently nude webcam performers and other sex workers trying to drum up business. Even mainstream brands have taken to using Tinder, with Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano from FOX's The Mindy Project showing up on people's accounts in January 2014 as part of a "strategic partnership" between the show and Tinder. Disturbingly, scam artists seem to have taken a liking to the platform.
But by far Tinder's biggest problems to date have had to do with cybersecurity. One vulnerability, present for about two months in 2013, allowed hackers to triangulate a Tinder user's location to within 100 feet. That summer, a similar vulnerability, which left user data such as Facebook IDs and most recent locations open for hackers to claim, emerged. A third hack allowed users to engineer matches with users who rejected them, and then see those users's emails. Tinder claims all problems have been dealt with, but three security problems in one year is kind of a lot.
5) Is Tinder like the straight version of Grindr?
Not really, no. If you log onto Grindr, you get an array of user pics for guys geographically near to you. Their distance is expressed in terms of feet rather than miles. You can message anyone, regardless of whether they display interest in you or not.
This system works, more or less, when you're not dealing with big societal power differentials between the genders you're matching. But when matching men and women, the potential for an app to become a serious safety risk for women is pretty high. On Tinder, Jezebel's Kate Dries notes, "The fact that the only people who can message you are people you want to get messages from is especially appealing, given how dating sites like OkCupid let anyone contact you, upping the creep factor." The Tinder approach (which is hardly new, and existed in some form before the internet through forums like speed dating) allows women to control who is allowed to message them, providing some protection against wackos lurking on the app.
Dating apps designed for heterosexuals also have to deal with the "message onslaught" problem, as Ann Friedman noted for New York magazine. Women tend to get messaged much more frequently than men on online dating services, and if their inboxes are so full as to be actually unmanageable, the service becomes worthless. Being able to control who sends you messages means Tinder evades that problem.
6) This has to have produced some awesome Tumblrs, right?
Has it ever! The most famous of these is probably Humanitarians of Tinder, which collects images of Tinder users whose photos portray them interacting with poor residents of developing countries, presumably in an attempt to show off their own empathy for the less fortunate.
But my personal favorite is Adam Langlois's Hello Let's Date, where he manages to turn Tinder into a platform for dark, vaguely surrealist jokes, mostly at his own expense. It's so good, you guys:
7) What's the deal with Tinder Plus?
Tinder Plus, rolled out on March 2, offers two big features not previously present in Tinder. The first, called Passport, lets you match with people in a different geographic location. That lets people match in their own cities while traveling and makes it possible to romantically pre-game vacations by lining up matches ahead of time:
The second is an "undo" function, letting you un-like or un-reject the last profile you saw. But arguably the biggest feature of Plus is one that used to be normal in the free version: unlimited likes. Now, in the free version, there's a like cap (about 100, AdWeek's Garett Sloane reports) and upon reaching it users have to wait 12 hours until they can like again.
The discriminatory pricing has also garnered criticism. In the US, Tinder Plus is $9.99 a month for under 30-year-olds, and $19.99 for 30-and-aboves. The disparity is even more striking in the UK, where the cutoff is 28 and the rates are £3.99 ($6) and £14.99 ($23) a month, respectively.
The company claims the price gap is just good business. "Lots of products offer differentiated price tiers by age, like Spotify does for students, for example," Tinder spokeswoman Rosette Pambakian told NPR's Sam Sanders. "Tinder is no different; during our testing we've learned, not surprisingly, that younger users are just as excited about Tinder Plus but are more budget constrained and need a lower price to pull the trigger."
But it could also alienate the growing number of older Tinder users. BuzzFeed's Doree Shafrir wrote a eloquent piece on why the app is particularly useful for people over 30. "As we age, the pool of eligible people shrinks, and with it so do the number of opportunities to meet people in the ways people met people in their twenties (well, before Tinder existed): through friends, at parties, at bars, at work, in grad school, wherever," she writes. "There’s something really comforting to know that, in fact, there are actually tons of people out there who are age-appropriate and are looking for the same thing you are."
8) Wasn't there some kind of sexual harassment problem at the company?
Yes. In late June/early July 2014, Whitney Wolfe, a former vice president at Tinder, sued the company for sexual harassment and discrimination. The specific allegations were horrifying:
She says that Mateen, whom she dated, called her a "desperate loser" who "jumps from relationship to relationship," a "joke," a "gold digger," a "disease," a "whore," and a "slut" who needed to be "watched" if she were to keep her job. Text messages Wolfe submitted to the court show Mateen disparaging "middle age Muslim pigs" and depicting IAC Chairman Barry Diller "as a penis." Tinder CEO Rad, Wolfe says, dismissed her pleas for help as "dramatic" and told her that if she and Mateen couldn’t get along, she would be fired.
After Mateen called her a whore at a company event, Wolfe claims she told Rad she was willing to resign in exchange for a severance package and vested stock. He declined and fired her instead.
Wolfe was, according to Bloomberg's Nick Summers, essential to Tinder's founding. She criss-crossed the nation visiting chapters of her sororities and holding meetings at which all the girls present installed the app. She did the same for the brother fraternity on campus — but after going to the sorority first, so there were already girls on the app for the guys to check out. The whole plan was her idea. "Tinder had fewer than 5,000 users before Wolfe made her trip, [Tinder developer Joe] Munoz says," Summers writes. "When she returned, there were some 15,000."
That kind of early growth is essential for a social app's success. As journalist Clive Thompson put it, Wolfe "created the critical mass that made Tinder explode." But according to Wolfe, Mateen took away her status as a cofounder because "having a young female co-founder 'makes the company seem like a joke' and 'devalues' the company."
The suit was settled out of court in September without Rad or anyone at Tinder admitting guilt. Wolfe reportedly received just over $1 million.
9) Was there any fallout from the lawsuit?
Yes. In November, Tinder CEO and founder Sean Rad announced he was stepping down from the company because of pressure from IAC, Tinder's largest stakeholder. But his resignation was contingent on finding a replacement, and as recently as this past Monday he was being referred to in media reports as the CEO.
Wolfe is also getting her revenge by releasing her own dating app, known as Bumble. The key advantage of Bumble over Tinder is that, after an opposite-sex match is made, the woman is required to make the first move; men aren't allowed to message unless their match messages first. This is meant to temper the tendency of dating platforms to devolve into means by which men can harass women.